Prayer as Relationship

In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. John 14:20

Prayer is commonly accepted as the primary path to connecting with the divine. In the west, we mostly consider prayer as something we say.  Our prayers are mostly spoken or silently directed toward God.  We lift up those we are concerned about or express gratitude and praise.  Oftentimes, we have an ongoing list of the people or concerns that we utilize in prayer.  While these prayers are good and useful, these are not the only kinds of prayers.

Forms of contemplative or meditative prayer are based on listening. In silence, the aim is stilling the mind and deepen the connection with the Holy Spirit within.  Contemplative prayer has two primary modes:

  1. Focusing on specific text, meditations, mantras or images by engaging the attention of our “faculties” such as reason, the mind, imagination, feelings and will. [Cataphatic Prayer)
  2. Freeing oneself from the use of our “faculties” releasing all thoughts, feelings, and images to simply remain open with intention and consenting to the presence of Christ within. (Apophatic Prayer–Centering Prayer is the only “apophatic“ prayer suggested in this packet.)

In the contemplative sense, prayer is not something you do, but is instead a relationship between you and the Divine Indwelling. To pray is to accept Christ’s invitation to turn your mind and heart inward, and open to the realization that you are not separate from God. Whether you know it or not, Christ is always with you…this understanding of prayer as a relationship with Christ is the primary foundation of the practice of the Christ-Centered life. Different personalities prefer different forms of prayer; therefore, there are various methods of contemplative prayer practices discussed on this site.

The Contemplative Christian Tradition

What is contemplation? In a literal sense, to contemplate is “to look thoughtfully for a long time.” In a spiritual sense, contemplation is to enter into silence and come into a knowing of the Divine. A contemplative state can be cultivated for the purpose of pondering the nature of God, but it can also happen spontaneously in the presence of something that inspires awe or wonder. You may have experienced a moment of contemplation while gazing at the stars or when losing yourself in the presence of a loved one. This experience of oneness breaks through your sense of separation, and may invite you into a deep experience of unity with God.

As Father Keating writes in his book Open Mind, Open Heart:

“Contemplation is a fundamental part of our human nature and hence available to every human being. It is accessed by letting go of our own ideas about ourselves, turning our will over to God, and resting in the Divine Indwelling that is already present within us and waiting to reveal itself to us.”

This information is adapted from © 2011 Sounds True Inc. course on Centering Prayer, material from and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault.